Quality time vs. quantity time

Parents want to have “a great time” with their kids. Realistically, however, how many “Kodak moments” are likely to occur? Wonderful moments or encounters don’t happen daily, and maybe not even weekly. More importantly, these moments can’t be scheduled. They happen when they happen.

There is a simple guideline for increasing the number of wonderful moments you have with your children: Spend more time with them. Aim to have “quantity time” and the “quality time” will follow.

What ways of spending time together are there? First, there are the basics. Have meals together. Engage the children in helping prepare the meal. Tuck your younger children into bed each night, preferably reading something out loud with them beforehand. In the car, turn off the radio and talk with each other. At restaurants talk together before the meal arrives.

Of course there are times that kids are quiet, but if you have been paying attention to their interests, you can with luck come up with an almost endless string of questions about school, school subjects, friends and classmates, teachers, sports, lessons and other activities, books they are reading, shows they are watching, music they like, and so forth.

But what about the fact that much of what younger children want to talk about is, to an adult, boring?  This point is hard to dispute! However, there are some considerations that rise above the immediate conversation you are having. If your children develop the habit of telling you what is important to them now, they may maintain that habit later.  Later, of course, you will probably want to know about, for instance, the drug use around them, the sexual temptations or opportunities they have, or how you embarrass them. Listening to your younger child is also a great opportunity to nurture that child’s self-acceptance. It is an incredibly powerful experience for a child to command the attention of an adult in a sustained way, especially when that adult is a parent who cares for the child and enforces all those rules the child would be happy to eliminate. If I can command this adult’s attention, I must be alright, a worthy and important person!

As to “advanced” quantity time, here are a few suggestions to illustrate the possibilities. Does your child take music lessons? Attend the lessons regularly, and do your best to understand what is happening there. At home, sit with your child during practice sessions. If you can provide helpful feedback, do so, but most importantly, just sit there and listen! Comment on the progress you have heard, or the passages you especially like. Find out what is difficult for your child, and how that difficulty is being addressed.

Does your child play a sport? Attend games and practices.  Pay attention to what is happening, and ask about it later. Get your child’s perspective on what occurred. Better yet, coach the team if you are able, or be a team manager. At home suggest drills or exercises that might improve game skills, and do these together.

Go to the library together. Tell your child you will be looking for some books of your own, but to check in with you when he or she finds something interesting. Drop everything when this happens and go investigate what was interesting enough to want to ask for your attention.

Set aside blocks of time and give your child the opportunity to propose how that time will be spent together. You can still have veto power over any activity you have no tolerance for.  However, if you negotiate your activities, you’ll have a good time together, and your child will also learn how to negotiate.

In short, develop the expectation that your life and the lives of your children will be woven together in a moment to moment way, day after day. You will still need some quiet time of your own, but perhaps not as much as you thought. There is little that is more relaxing than having quality time with your kids!  Just make sure you put in enough quantity time to allow those moments to emerge regularly.  With luck you will create bonds that over time become unbreakable.

Even if you are away from your children because you are admitted to alcohol and drug rehab, they are probably not far from your mind.  In addiction treatment of any type, it is important to focus on yourself long enough to make a good foundation for change.  How long it takes to build that foundation varies from person to person.  Once enough foundation is established, it is time to think about your relationships, especially your children.  The above ideas will be useful for building (or re-building) these relationships.